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March 16, 2016 6:04 am

Dissecting the New York Times’ Latest Netanyahu-Bashing — Factual Errors and All

avatar by Ira Stoll

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New York Times headquarters.  Photo: Wiki Commons, via Haxorjoe.

New York Times headquarters. Photo: Wiki Commons, via Haxorjoe.

It’s one thing for the New York Times to use an impending visit to America by Prime Minister Netanyahu as an occasion to launch an editorial attack on him. This week, though, the Times outdid itself, managing to attack Mr. Netanyahu over a visit to Washington that isn’t even happening.

The editorial at issue, “Mr. Netanyahu’s Lost Opportunities,” contains a few factual errors and more than a few bizarre arguments, so it’s worth a close look.

Begin with the criticism “that Mr. Netanyahu’s government announced this decision in the media rather than to the White House.” Isn’t there something strange about a newspaper attacking a government for talking to the press? The strong suggestion is that the editors at the Times would prefer that journalists, and the news-consuming public, would have had to wait longer before learning newsworthy information. That the Times here is editorializing in favor of keeping journalists in the dark is evidence of the contorted logic that afflicts the rest of the editorial as well.

The Times calls the Netanyahu leak “not a surprise, considering the disrespect the prime minister has shown Mr. Obama in the past.” There’s no mention of the disrespect that Mr. Obama has shown Mr. Netanyahu, beginning with the president’s failure to stop in Israel during a visit to the Middle East early in his first term. Even PBS and former members of the Obama administration acknowledged that was a mistake.

The next paragraph describes Israel as “the top recipient of American aid.” That is not factually accurate. In recent years, America has poured far more money into attempts to secure and rebuild Iraq ($2 trillion) and Afghanistan ($1 trillion). Military assistance to Israel runs about $30 billion over ten years, a bargain by comparison. Adjusted for inflation, America’s post-World War II assistance to rebuild Europe, about $103 billion in today’s dollars, also is more than what America has spent on Israel over any comparable time span.

The Times says that Mr. Netanyahu “has reportedly asked for a big increase in American aid to more than $4 billion per year, which seems unreasonable.” The Times doesn’t explain or argue why it is unreasonable; it just asserts it. The real unreasonable party here is the Times editorial writer, who ignores the effect of inflation. It’s a classic double standard. When Republicans want to increase health care or food stamp spending by less than the rate of inflation, the Times denounces it as a cut. But when it’s Israel’s military budget on the chopping block, the Timesmen all of a sudden emerge as advocates of spending restraint. Even David Makovsky, who served as a senior adviser to John Kerry at the State Department in the Obama administration, acknowledged this week that Israel’s position is that, after taking inflation into account, anything less than $3.6 billion a year “would actually represent a decrease in aid” from current levels.

Next, the Times claims that Mr. Netanyahu “has never shown a serious willingness” when it comes to “progress toward a Middle East peace deal.” “Never”? It’s as if the Times editorial writers don’t read their own newspaper. Here is a dispatch from Jerusalem published in the November 22, 1998 Times under the headline “Pursuing Peace; Netanyahu and His Party Turn Away from ‘Greater Israel.’” It reported:

[L]ast week, Israel’s parliament …approved the latest Israeli-Palestinian accord by a large majority that crossed party lines, and sanctioned a handover of territory that will leave the Palestinians in full or partial control of 40 percent of the West Bank… The triumph of pragmatism blurred traditional distinctions. Likud, despite defections, had joined Labor in accepting the inevitability of territorial compromise, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu worked to get the agreement passed in de facto alliance with the opposition… Mr. Netanyahu, in turn, committed himself during his election campaign to honor the 1993 Oslo accord on Palestinian self-rule signed by the previous Labor Government, effectively assenting to a withdrawal in the West Bank. He then signed on to the process himself in the 1997 Hebron agreement, which set the terms for a pullout from most of the city and for further Israeli withdrawals in the West Bank.

Or the Times editorial writers could have consulted the dispatch from Jerusalem that appeared in the Times on January 15, 1997. Headlined, “A Softening of the Hawk,” It began:

A cartoon in The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday showed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looking into a mirror with a copy of the Hebron agreement in his hand, and seeing an image of Shimon Peres reflected back at him.

That perception of the hard-line Prime Minister as indistinguishable from the dovish Mr. Peres has been on many minds these days as a Middle East agreement drew near, and as Mr. Netanyahu turned to defending a withdrawal from Hebron against the same implacable right-wing critics at whose head he so recently marched.

No wonder Mr. Netanyahu has grown more skeptical of such territorial withdrawals; the Times editorial writers don’t give him any credit for those he already conducted. Instead, they assert, falsely and inaccurately, that such withdrawals “never” happened.

The editorial concludes with a call to involve “the United Nations Security Council” in a deal to determine “the future of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, security and land swaps.” The Security Council’s permanent members include Vladimir Putin’s Russia, Communist China and France, with its large and restive Muslim minority. Israel should put its security and capital city in the hands of that body? No thanks. It’s a fitting concluding suggestion to an editorial that epitomizes how badly adrift the Times is these days on matters related to the Jewish state.

More of Ira Stoll’s media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

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